May 1, 2017

Legislative Focus: Federal Funding and North Korea
Last week, Congress passed a continuing resolution funding the federal government through Friday, May 5th, as Members of Congress worked through the weekend to finalize a $1.1 trillion omnibus to fund the government through September 30th.  Late last night, lawmakers struck a deal on the FY 2017 budget, which includes new defense spending, a $1.5 billion border security infusion, extends expiring health insurance benefits for coal miners, and includes $2 billion in new spending for the National Institute of Health. The budget does not include any money for a wall on the southern border with Mexico. The House could vote as early as Thursday on the budget, before it moves to the Senate.

The Senate convened today at 3 p.m. ET to resume consideration of Jay Clayton to be a member of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The House will convened today at 2 p.m. for consideration of six bills under suspension of the rules, including H.R. 1644, legislation that would levy sanctions on North Korea. During the week the House will also consider H.R. 1180, which allows private-sector employers to provide compensatory time to their hourly employees instead of overtime pay.

Key Hearings and Markups

Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee

  • Full committee field hearing on “Growing Jobs and Economic Opportunity: Perspectives on the 2018 Farm Bill from Michigan.” Saturday, May 6 at 10 a.m., Michigan State University, 3775 South Reese Road, Saginaw Valley Research and Extension Center, Frankenmuth, Mich.

Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee

  • Full committee hearing on investing in America’s broadband infrastructure. Wednesday, May 3 at 10 a.m., 253 Russell Bldg.
  • Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security Subcommittee hearing on “Questions, Answers, and Perspectives on the Current State of Airline Travel.” Thursday, May 4 at 10:30 a.m., 253 Russell Bldg.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

  • Full committee hearing on federal payments to local governments provided through the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act and the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program and the need to provide greater fiscal certainty for resource-dependent communities with tax-exempt federal lands. Tuesday, May 2 at 10 a.m., 366 Dirksen Bldg.
  • Full committee hearing on the threat posed by electromagnetic pulse and policy options to protect energy infrastructure and to improve capabilities for adequate system restoration. Thursday, May 4 at 10 a.m., 366 Dirksen Bldg.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

  • Full committee hearing on “Infrastructure Project Streamlining and Efficiency: Achieving Faster, Better, and Cheaper Results.” Wednesday, May 3 at 10 a.m., 406 Dirksen Bldg.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee

  • Full committee hearing on the nomination of Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Iowa, to be ambassador to China. Witnesses include Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Iowa. Tuesday, May 2 at 10 a.m., 419 Dirksen Bldg.

House Energy and Commerce Committee

  • Health Subcommittee hearing on “Examining Improvements to the Regulation of Medical Technologies.” Tuesday, May 2 at 10 a.m., 2123 Rayburn Bldg.
  • Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on “Combating Waste, Fraud, and Abuse in Medicaid’s Personal Care Services Program.” Tuesday, May 2 at 10:15 a.m., 2322 Rayburn Bldg.
  • Energy Subcommittee hearing on pending legislation, including the “Hydropower Policy Modernization Act of 2017.” Wednesday, May 3 at 10 a.m., 2123 Rayburn Bldg.

House Natural Resources Committee

  • Federal Lands Subcommittee hearing on the “Consequences of Executive Branch Overreach of the Antiquities Act.” Tuesday, May 2 at 10 a.m., 1324 Longworth Bldg.
  • Water, Power and Oceans Subcommittee hearing on “The Challenges of Keeping Hydropower Affordable and Opportunities for New Development.” Wednesday, May 3 at 2:30 p.m., 1324 Longworth Bldg.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee

  • Full committee hearing on “Reviewing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) Data Breach.” Wednesday, May 3 at 9:30 a.m., 2154 Rayburn Bldg.

The Week in Review

Senate Introduces Online Sales Tax Legislation
Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) have reintroduced the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2017. The bill is nearly identical to legislation that passed the Senate in 2013 by a vote of 69-27. Companion legislation has not yet been introduced in the House, but Representative Kristi Noem (R-SD) is expected to reintroduce the Remote Transactions Parity Act (RPTA) soon. RPTA also gives states the authority to collect sales taxes on remote sales, but differs from Marketplace Fairness in some ways, including a small business exemption that phases out after three years and a safe harbor from audits for remote sellers with less than $5 million in annual sales.

House Education and Workforce Committee Holds Hearing on Higher Ed Accreditation
Last week, the House Education and Workforce Committee held a hearing on the accreditation system for American higher education institutions titled “Strengthening Accreditation to Better Protect Students and Taxpayers.” During the hearing, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) emphasized the role of independent accrediting agencies, rather than the federal government, to judge the quality of education programs and the need for both the federal government to streamline rules for accrediting bodies and accreditors to innovate and improve the system. Witnesses testified to deficiencies in the current accreditation systems and ways it can be reformed, such as shifting focus to student outcomes, areas in which accreditors seek regulatory relief from the U.S. Department of Education, and the appropriate roles of state governments, accreditors and the federal government in oversight of higher education institutions.

Trump Releases Tax Guidelines
President Trump unveiled his administration’s guidelines for tax reform. The guidelines call for the tax rate for businesses to be cut to 15 percent and the tax brackets for individuals to be reduced from seven tax brackets to three tax brackets of 10 percent, 25 percent, and 35 percent. The plan would also eliminate the alternative minimum tax and the estate tax, as well as all other deductions like the state and local tax deduction. The plan retains deductions for mortgage interest and charitable donations. The Trump Administration will hold listening sessions next month on the tax guidelines, while House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Kevin Brady (R-TX) has indicated that he is aiming to complete tax reform by the end of this year.

Gen. Lengyl Testifies at SASC Subcommittee Hearing on NG Readiness
Last week General Joseph L. Lengyl, Chief of the National Guard Bureau (CNGB), and other commanding generals from each reservist component, testified at a Senate Armed Services Defense Subcommittee hearing on the National Guard’s (NG) state of readiness and reserve programs. During their testimonies, all 5 commanders signaled their opposition to a stopgap budget measure to fund military operations, noting that the passage of another continuing resolution would weaken the National Guard’s readiness to protect the homeland and respond to domestic emergencies.

Another concern General Lengyl expressed is that full-time dual-status technicians are military members who operate domestic response capabilities. If those technicians no longer hold Title 32 status, the nation’s Adjutants General would lose their authority to deploy those technicians to respond to floods and other domestic emergencies. Sen. Jonathan Tester (D-MT) also voiced his support as a cosponsor for S.766 and encouraged his fellow Senators to do the same.

House Passes Bill Killing MPO Consolidation Rule
Last week the House approved S. 496, a bill that would kill a new rule from the Department of Transportation consolidating metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs). The rule, which was issued last December by the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration, would require the consolidation of MPOs operating within a single urbanized area. Under the rule, a planning agency working in one city could potentially require the sign off of governors in other states before spending federal funding.